The 9 Best Ways to Use the iPad Camera

Use Your iPad camera for more than photos

Photo of an iPad with Camera app open, taking a photo of a iPad's back camera lens.

This article could easily have the headline “The 17 Best Ways to Use the iPad Camera”. That’s because Apple gives you at least 8 things you do with your camera when you take your iPad out of the box. These include the ability to:

  1. Take photos
  2. Record video (and slo-mo video)
  3. Recognize QR codes (right from the Camera app
  4. Add captions to video as you speak with live titles in the Clips app
  5. Scan documents in the Notes app
  6. Hold a video meeting with other people who use Apple devices with Facetime
  7. Use the Measure app added in iOS 12 to, well, measure things
  8. Use the camera as a magnifying lens

The App Store offers all sorts of software that takes advantage of the iPad cameras, both front and back. Some apps, such as ProCam 6 ($5.99) and Filmic Pro ($14.99), give you more control of camera settings while taking photos or capturing video. The 9 apps that follow all use the iPad camera, but then either do something extra with the image, such as extract colors, equations, or edges, or help you use the image to do something interesting, such as create a movie, draw, or manage a meeting. Even better, all but two of the apps offer a free version to get you started.

Screenshot of Adobe Capture CC app, shows 5 colors on left extracted to make a palette from a photo of the Getty Museum Gardens.

Adobe Capture CC relies on the camera to deliver several services: to turn an image into vectors, patterns, brushes, or even a 3D object, among others. One of its best tricks is how it can create a 5 color theme from a photo. Move color dots on the screen to the colors you want as part of your palette, if you don’t like the ones it auto-selects. The app is free and allows for up to 2GB of storage, with a upgrade to 20GB of storage for $1.99 per month available.

What We Like:

  • Versatile app that lets you use your camera to create custom tools and palettes

What We Don’t Like:

  • Requires you to sign in with either a free Adobe ID or Facebook or Google account
Photo of Da Vinci app, showing a photo of cat on iPad screen, with paper and hand with pencil below, drawing the cat

While it doesn’t draw for you, the Da Vinci Eye: Anyone Can Draw app ($2.99) may help you trace and sketch a bit better. You’ll need to position your iPad several inches above a piece of paper, then select an image to draw and position it on the screen. Adjust the opacity to see the image or your drawing, or a bit of both.

What We Like:

  • Smart, selectable use of the camera and opacity settings.

What We Don’t Like:

  • Make sure to position your iPad and drawing where they won’t be bumped or move. It can be a bit tricky to re-align things if either moves.
Screenshot of export options for Microsoft Lens: mostly to other Microsoft apps, but also PDF, Photo, and Mail

Use the free Microsoft Office Lens app to take a photo of a whiteboard, document, or business card. The app recognizes the edges of the object, removes glare, and lets you crop the image, add text, or draw annotations. You can then export it to several other applications, including OneNote, OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, Photos, among others.

What We Like:

  • Recognizes edges and captures content of documents and dry erase board images well

What We Don’t Like:

  • Handwritten letters not always accurately converted to text 
Screenshot of Padlet, showing 4 sticky notes converted into resizeable digital notes

Padlet offers a virtual wall on which you can arrange notes, links, images, video, and more, in a variety of layouts. And you can create a new board with your camera: Open the app, tap to add a new board, choose Catscan, then take a picture of notes on a wall. Padlet turns them into virtual notes on a board that you can add additional content to as you resize or rearrange your notes. With the free version, the app includes ads and limits you to 10MB of files and 3 padlets. An upgrade to Pro ($99 per year) removes ads, increases storage to 250MB of files, and lets you create an unlimited number of padlets.

What We Like:

  • Catscan may be the simplest way to make virtual notes out of small squares stuck on a wall

What We Don’t Like:

  • Padlet lists Catscan as a beta feature (as of September 2018). We hope it stays!
Screenshot of Photomath, showing how it recognized a written math equation, -7x^2 + 19x -12, and offers to solve it.

Stuck without a solution for a math problem? Open the free PhotoMath app and point the camera at an equation. The app will recognize numbers and variables and show you each step you need to reach the solution.

What We Like:

  • A fantastic app for math homework help.

What We Don’t Like:

  • Keep an eye on the kids to make sure they work the problem first, then grab the app, not the other way around! 
Screenshot of Sky Guide, showing augmented reality mode that overlays a star map with the camera image

Sky Guide displays stars, planets, satellites, and more on your iPad’s screen. Tap the compass and camera, then point your screen in any direction to see objects relative to your current position and orientation. The basic version ($2.99) includes a catalog of 2.5 million stars, or you can upgrade to Supermassive (for $9.99 per year) for an improved star catalog and support for high definition zooming.

What We Like:

  • Night vision mode dims the screen and displays items with a faint red color.

What We Don’t Like:

  • Extended viewing of the night sky while you hold an iPad in the air will build arm strength, but may also be a bit tiring.
Screenshot of Stop Motion Studio coffee cup in the process being animated spinning

Create stop motion animated videos frame-by-frame with the camera on your iPad and the free Stop Motion Studio app. Cut, copy, or paste frames, add audio, and export in SD or HD formats. Upgrade for $4.99 to unlock the ability to add effects, import images, work with higher resolutions, and more.

What We Like:

  • Powerful step-by-step image capture
  • Ability to display preceding image overlaid on current camera view (also known as “onion skinning”)

What We Don’t Like:

  • Timing is everything: It may take some experimentation for people to learn how much (or little) to adjust an object to achieve the desired animated movement.
Screenshot of sign that shows

Ever see a sign, ad, or book cover and wonder... what the font? This free app helps you locate many fonts that either match or are very close to the font found in your photo. The app includes links to MyFonts.com, where you may purchase identified fonts (prices vary)

What We Like:

  • Finds matches for most widely-used fonts
  • Shows alternatives even if an exact match isn’t identified

What We Don’t Like:

  • You need to capture the font photo front-on and level. The app struggles to accurately identify fonts captured from a side angle or with a tile.
Screenshot of Zoom meetings, that shows video, screen share, and whiteboard meeting options

With excellent battery life and a large screen, the iPad works well for remote conferencing that uses the camera to let you see other people in your meeting. ZOOM Cloud Meetings supports video meetings, whiteboarding, and file sharing, and also enables screen sharing from your iPad to other attendees. The free version limits group meetings to 100 people and 40 minutes, although one-on-one meetings are not time limited. Paid options that remove the meeting time limit start at $14.99 per month per host.

What We Like:

  • Zoom includes most of the features people will want in a mobile meeting app.
  • The ability to share a screen, real-time from an iPad is an impressive feature.

What We Don’t Like:

  • We wish there were a way to apply the 40-minute time limit for group meetings to all meetings we attend, not just those where we use the free version of Zoom.